Press Enter / Return to begin your search.

Traditional South African Pottery The Nala Potting Dynasty

In the 1980’s Yvonne Chaka Chaka was singing about brewing African beer in the timeless infectious hit Umqombothi, a song that was and still is a regular feature at weddings and parties across Southern Africa and beyond. I remember the accompanying video, one of celebration and saw women carrying their brews in a traditional clay pot. Whether expertly balanced atop the head having been filled with water from the river, or as a vessel fermenting the ‘African Beer’, the bulbous clay pot is an enduring symbol of cultural tradition across the African continent, one that sees potters and ceramicists continue to produce the beautifully rounded and still functional vessels with great skill. Admired for its beauty, decoration and shape, traditional clay pot making is increasingly being revered as an art form, producing a number of noted artists who are taking the skill to a higher level; amongst them the Nala Family South African pottery makers comprising three generations of traditional Zulu clay pot-making, whose finely crafted pieces are made in the Thukela Valley, KwaZulu Natal and have earned the family of female potters local and international acclaim.
[Image sources: Traditional Zulu Pot, Nesta Nala via Eugene Hon]

Wider recognition of the family’s skill and talent started with Nesta Nala, who was credited with reviving the Zulu beer pot tradition, known as ‘Ukhamba’ and during her lifetime was bestowed many awards and was revered as a ‘living national treasure’. Nesta began making pots at the age of twelve, a craft she learnt from her mother, Siphiwe, an acclaimed local potter who made beer pots for local domestic use. Nesta in turn passed the tradition down to her daughters Jabu, Thembi and Zanele, each of whom following in their mother’s footsteps has developed her own distinctive style based on the traditional techniques of hand-coiling the clay which is then smoothed and burnished with river pebbles once it becomes leather hard. Traditional motifs as well as new styles are incorporated; the decorative patterns are either cut into the pots surface or added directly onto the surface in an ancient design technique called Amasumpha, which involves additional bits of clay applied to form a raised pattern. The pots are then fired twice, the second time giving the pots their characteristic black colour. Once cooled the pots are then rubbed with animal fat and brushed to a glossy shine.
[Image sources: Traditional Zulu Pots; top, Jabu Nala via Witness
bottom, Zanele Nala via Eugene Hon]
Setting themselves apart from most local potters, the Nala’s began to sign their work, something that was rarely, if ever practised and shows the shift that comes with competing in a world that values collectible works of art. Also setting the family’s work apart are the differences in sizes, quality of finish and decoration; defining characteristics that highlight the perfection of a tradition through the generations; and ones that have seen their creations included in several permanent collections across South Africa, as well as becoming locally and internationally sought after by collectors.
[Image source: Traditional Zulu Pot, Thembi Nala via Nkosi Imported Crafts]
The level of detailing in the patterns give the pots greater sophistication and elegance, are simply stunning.

…it’s Mother’s Day this Sunday in the UK and this post is a reminder of a Mother’s continuing influence across the generations

Additional details:
For further information about the Nala Family visit:

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • This popular Africanisim beautifully illustrates the pioneering spirit of togethernes. It highlights how working and collaborating with others can propel you to new heights. Building a business rarely happens in isolation. Atelier Fifty Five seeks to to shine the light on African brands, and this includes extending a hand by sharing our knowledge and expertise to help African brands become the best they can be. So let us go together. Sign up to the Atelier Fifty Five Academy mailing list and join a community of ambitious creative business owners dedicated to creating brands that make their audiences sit up and take notice.⁣
.  #quotes #inspirationalquotes #motivationalquotes #africanproverb #brandstrategy #creativeentrepreneur  #entrepreneur #mycreativebiz  #brandbuilding #africanstartup #africanbusiness #makeithappen
  • Preserving traditional skills the Kayla cushion by Frida 54 highlights the art of Tritik, a process of knotting and sewing that results in a variety of symmetric patterns. Handwoven with 100% cotton from the cotton mills of northern Cameroon the textiles are dyed with handmade dyes using ancestral techniques. [📷 credit: @frida_54 ]
  • Values . Respecting the design [📷 credit: @atelierfiftyfive]
  • Infuse your interior style with the colourful elegance of African beaded necklaces courtesy of The African Woven Necklace light shade by @moderngesture. The design features graduating circular hoops each hand wrapped with colourful woven thread bands. Handcrafted in Cape Town, South Africa by designer Candice Lawrence, the lighting is available in the  Atelier Fifty Five shop. [📷 credit: @atelierfiftyfive]
  • Eight years ago I started a blog as a place to document the interesting things I was discovering with regards to the design and creativity emerging from Africa. From the moment I created my first blog post little did I know where the journey would take me. Fast-forward to present day I have not only been privileged to witness the development of an industry, but to also have an active role in creating awareness about it.

On this journey, I have seen Africa’s design industry grow from a handful of names from a handful countries to a continent wide-reach. Some names that were just starting out have become internationally respected leaders in their field, whilst behind them, a new generation of names are coming up and claiming their place in the industry.

To say that it is an exciting time for African design and creativity would be a gross understatement! We are in a time of rapid advancement and unbridled creative expression, that is setting the foundations and standards for future generations to build on. And like many other emerging industries in Africa, creativity is opening up opportunities to those who are willing to seize them. And seizing them designers are!

And as Atelier Fifty Five begins a new chapter it is an opportunity for me to renew my commitment to supporting the development of the African design industry and helping those I work with and write about, and work with to fulfill their potential for creating world-class brands. 
I invite you to visit our website to discover more. [Link in bio]

Tapiwa, Founder Atelier Fifty Five
  • Instagram Image

Instagram @ atelierfiftyfive